Our Friends, Matthieu and Stacy, provided us with a good excuse to visit France last week. They were married in San Francisco earlier this year and were having a reception in Matthieu’s home town near Lyon. We decided on a 5 day trip, including the Saturday reception, to visit France’s second city. We booked flights on EasyJet, which were cheaper than the train at the time, and seemingly much faster. However, we flew from Stansted for the first time, which ended up being quite a trek in itself.
We arrived in Lyon on Friday evening and picked up a rental car from Sixt. We planned to spend the first night in Meximieux. We had our Garmin GPS loaded with maps for France and figured we were all set. Unfortunately we ended up on an expressway which was not in the GPS and ended up driving some 60 kilometers instead of only 20. We eventually made it to the hotel. After checking in, we walked to the nearby medieval town of Perouges. The town is pretty neat. It’s quite a small, scenic town; all old stone walls and cobblestone streets. Everything was pretty much shut down by the time we got there, so after a stroll around the whole town, we headed back to Meximieux for dinner and a good nights sleep.
On Saturday we went for a drive around the La Dombes, an area consisting of hundreds of ponds. There are many villages in the area where we stopped to visit churches and such. In addition to the ponds, we saw many fields in which were growing either corn or sunflowers. We visited some five or six villages before heading to our next hotel in Marcy l’Etoile. After checking in to the hotel, we drove to the reception at Matthieu’s parents’ house in Lentilly. We had a lovely time there despite the poor weather. We met a lot of great people, were entertained by a live jazz trio and enjoyed good food and wine.
On Sunday we drove through the southern part of the Beaujolais region known as the “Pays des Pierres Dorées,” or land of the golden stone. The Beaujolais is one of the many wine regions of France, though to be frank, it does not produce a very exciting wine. The towns and the country side, however, are quite beautiful. On our drive we visited Oingt (on left), Thieze and Bagnols. We also saw quite a few vineyards (on right) and more sunflower fields. We returned the rental car in Lyon Sunday evening at the Part Dieu train station. From there we took the Metro in to the heart of Lyon.
We exited the Metro in Place Bellecour (on left) on Presqu’ile, a peninsula between the rivers Soane and Rhone. Place Bellecour is a large, open square with a statue of Lois XIV in the middle. Rising above the square across the river is the hill of Fourviere topped with a basilica and the Metallique Tower. From the square we walked to our hotel which is just across the Soane from Vieux (Old) Lyon and the Fourviere (the hill originally settled by the Romans).
Vieux Lyon (pictured on right) was the center of the original medieval city of Lyon. Now it is full of tourists, shops and buchons. Buchons are restaurants specializing in Lyonnaise cuisine. They are all over Vieux Lyon, and they all have pretty much the same menu. Another “must see” in the area are the traboules. A traboule is a passageway connecting various avenues and courtyards. One of the more famous traboules ends in a red hued courtyard with a tall tower containing a spiral staircase (see left). Another attraction in the area is the Cathedral of Saint John, the seat of the archbishop of Lyon. All in all, despite the makings of a tourist trap, Vieux Lyon is really worth a visit.
It rained quite a bit on Monday. Even so, we walked all around the Presqu’ile and Croix-Rousse areas of the city. There are a few murals around the city which quite interesting to see. We saw 3 of them. They pretty much fill the entire sides of multi-story buildings. Many of them are in the style of trompe l’oeil, which focus on 3-dimensional realism. Pretty cool stuff. In Croix-Rousse we saw more traboules and in Presqu’ile we saw the Place Des Terreaux, Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and the opera house. At night, make sure you see the basilica (pictured on right) before they turn off the lights at midnight!
On Tuesday, our final day in Lyon, we went for our second visit to Fourviere. We visited the old Roman theater and the Odeon. We also visited the basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière. The architecture is quite eclectic, mixing Roman, Gothic and Byzantine styles. The huge Byzantine mosaics on the wall are exquisite. We managed to get on the rooftop tour, which I would say is one of the best church tours I’ve been on. Not so much the tour, which was conducted in French, but the access we had to the towers, roof, belfry, etc. There are some amazing views of Lyon from the top of the towers!
At the end, we took the Metro to the Part Dieu train station where we caught the Rhone Express to the airport. We flew in to Gatwick where we caught a bus back to London. It was after midnight by the time we got back to our flat. It was definitely a great trip overall. My only complaint is that it was too short. I would have liked more time to explore the beautiful Beaujolais. I would have also liked to taste some real wine to the south of Lyon in the Côtes du Rhône. Maybe next time, though we still have most of Europe to explore. Check the Gallery for more pictures from Perouges, La Dombes, Beaujolais or Lyon by clicking the links.